Benzodiazepines Characteristics and Effects

This class of synthetically based drugs, usually known as Valium, was developed in the late 1940s and 1950s as an alternative to barbiturates. In the West they came into wide clinical use in the 1960s and the 1970s. The drugs were looked upon as an innovation in the treatment of anxiety disorders and sleeping problems.

Benzodiazepines is a chemical group term which are classified as sedatives or tranquillisers. This ever increasing number of drugs include Temazepam, Diazepam, Nitrazepam, Oxazepam, Clonazepam and Flunitrazepam.

Benzodiazepines combine with certain parts of the nerve cells in the brain to enhance inhibitory mechanisms. They induce a state of calmness, slowing down physical, mental and emotional responses. When given in large doses they will induce sleep.

Administration is usually in tablet, capsule or liquid form. It is usually taken orally or by injection. The calming effect is evident in about 45 minutes and some degree of sedation can persist for 24 hours.

Adverse side effects can include lethargy, confusion, mood swings, nausea, dizziness, disturbing dreams, and slurred speech. The over prescribing or individual misuse of such drugs can result in increased anxiety, irritability and hostility. Mixed with other drugs they can reduce judgement of time, space and distance and combined with alcohol can result in death.

After a high dose continued for about 2 months or a low dose taken for a year or more, withdrawal can be extremely severe and prolonged. Feelings of craving for the drug, anxiety, sleep disturbance and possible hallucinations can occur. Withdrawal symptoms can erratically come and go in cycles separated by 2 to 10 days and may persist for several months after the drug has been stopped.

Benzo’s are highly addictive – especially to alcoholics and addicts.


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